1. 5 Ws and an H

Upper elementary students are just learning what it means to ask questions about character, plot, and theme. You can model this skill by thinking aloud as you read a portion of a text to the class. Use who, what, where, when, why, and how questions, and keep students engaged by challenging them to tally how many questions you ask in each category.

After your think-aloud, ask students what questions they might ask of any text and which were specific to the one you read aloud. Keep a running list of universal questions in your reading area.

2. Mark With a Q

Before students begin a new text, invite them to make bookmarks by cutting a piece of lined paper into three vertical strips. Have students use the bookmarks to record the questions they have as they read.

Encourage them to skip a line or two between questions, and, when they think they know the answer, go back and fill it in. Partners can exchange bookmarks to help spur discussion.

3. Roll to Read

Create two virtual dice on an interactive whiteboard, or use oversize foam cubes to make your own reading dice. On the sides of one die, write who, what, when, why, where, and how. On the sides of the other, write character, plot, setting, point of view, theme, and use of language.

Invite partners to take turns rolling both dice and asking questions about a shared book. For example, if a student rolls how and character, she might ask, “How did Maniac Magee get his name?” Have partners record their questions and thoughts.

4. Color Notes

Provide students with various colored sticky notes and ask them to use different colors for either who, what, why, when, where, and how questions or questions about plot, character, setting, and so on. Challenge students to use at least one sticky note of each color per chapter or section. Then divide students into groups by color and have each group tackle all of the class’s questions in that category.

5. Play “Question of the Day”

Appoint five students to come up with a “question of the day” for a class text. The questions should be open-ended rather than factual, e.g., “Why does Harriet like to spy on her friends?” instead of “What happens when Harriet’s notebook is discovered?”

Have the students write their questions on the board. Then have the rest of the class write their names under the question they are most interested in discussing. Give groups 15 minutes to talk about their questions, then have them share with the class.

6. Answer in Character

Choose a character from a shared text, and invite students to write down questions for that character on slips of paper. Have them leave their questions in a designated spot appropriate for the character. For example, they might leave questions for Hagrid (from Harry Potter) in a plastic “dragon” egg or questions for Jesse Tuck (from Tuck Everlasting) in a wishing well.

Respond to a few questions each day, again leaving the answers in the special spot. Don’t let on that you’re answering the questions — react to queries of “Mrs. Jones, you’re the one leaving the answers, aren’t you?” with a noncommittal shrug. In your replies, encourage students to dig deeper whenever possible, leaving comments like “What do you think?” or “How do you think I would have felt?”

7. Predict the Ending

Before reading a class text, and at several points in between, invite students to predict the ending of the story. Students’ first predictions will be quite silly — based solely on the title, cover illustration, and plot summary. As they read, their predictions should become more refined, and closer to what actually happens.

Have students write their predictions on sticky notes with two or three reasons behind them. Post the sticky notes in a row on top of a bulletin board. Add students’ next predictions in a row below, and so on. You will have a record of how students’ thinking changed as they became more familiar with the text.


How can I help a fourth grader reading at a first-grade level?

  • Plumb Her Interests
    Ask about her favorite hobbies, sports, or foods. Look for leveled nonfiction on these subjects, which may seem less “babyish” than fiction aimed at a first grader.
  • Work on Basics
    As a fourth-grade teacher, you may not be familiar with teaching reading basics like phonemes and blends. You might ask your colleagues in the lower grades for favorite tips or games. Invite your struggling reader to come in at lunch or recess so she doesn’t feel self-conscious about practicing these skills.
  • Call Home
    A phone conversation or home visit can help you understand in part why a student is struggling. Perhaps reading was also a challenge for one or more of her parents, or a busy schedule prevents the family from reading together. Share skill-building ideas that your student can try at home.
  • Listen, Talk, Share, and Write
    Remember that literacy is far encompassing, and the more your student is exposed to language the more comfortable she will grow with reading. Lend her audiobooks, write back and forth in a reading journal, and encourage conversation about reading, life, the Jonas Brothers — whatever gets the words flowing.